20 April 2018

North Korea

North Korea officially confirms plans for talks with US

KONFRONTASI - North Korea has officially acknowledged plans for holding historic talks with the United States.

State-run media reported Tuesday that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un had discussed the upcoming talks at a key ruling party meeting a day earlier.

Seoul aims for more talks about talks with North Korea this month

KONFRONTASI- South Korea said on Friday it was seeking high-level talks this month with North Korea to prepare for a summit and that South Korean President Moon Jae-in may meet Donald Trump before the U.S. president’s planned meeting with the North Korean leader.

Amid a flurry of diplomacy from Asia to Europe to Washington, Trump reaffirmed his plan to meet with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un by the end of May during a phone call on Friday with Moon and both voiced “cautious optimism” about efforts to resolve the crisis over North Korea’s nuclear weapons.

A White House statement said Trump and Moon discussed preparations for their upcoming engagements with Pyongyang and agreed that “concrete actions,” not words, were the key to denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

They “emphasized that a brighter future is available for North Korea, if it chooses the correct path,” it said.

Earlier, Moon’s chief of staff, Im Jong-seok, said proposed North-South talks in late March would cover key agenda topics and other details of the pending summit between Moon and Kim.

The New York Times reported on Friday that Central Intelligence Agency chief Mike Pompeo, whom Trump nominated this week to replace Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, has been playing a lead role in planning the talks and has been conducting back-channel communications with North Korean representatives.

Pompeo has engaged with counterparts through a channel that runs between the CIA. and North Korean counterpart, the Reconnaissance General Bureau. He remains in close touch with the director of South Korea’s National Intelligence Service, Suh Hoon, said a U.S. official familiar with the preparations.

For many years, the main and often only channels of official communication between Washington and Pyongyang have been South Korea’s intelligence service and North Korea’s UN Mission in the United States, the official added.

The official confirmed that Pompeo has taken the lead on planning because after the departure of Joe Yun, the State Department’s point person on North Korea, intelligence agencies are the main source of expertise on the country.

The planning is at “a very early stage,” the official said.

If North Korea agrees to the talks, they would offer an opportunity for Pyongyang to break its silence on what Seoul says is Kim’s desire to meet Trump and Moon and his willingness to freeze his country’s nuclear and missile programs.

 

“We’ve decided to narrow down the agenda topics to denuclearizing the Korean peninsula, securing permanent peace to ease military tension and new, bold ways to take inter-Korean relations forward,” Im, the head of South Korea’s summit preparation team, told reporters.

Im said Moon may meet Trump after an inter-Korean summit but before Trump’s planned summit with Kim in May.

South Korea’s Yonhap news agency said Moon pledged in the call with Trump to cooperate closely with Washington on summit diplomacy. Trump asked South Korean officials to show flexibility in trade negotiations with the United States in the call, the South Korean presidency said.

Even amid North Korea tensions, Trump has repeatedly denounced a U.S. free trade deal with ally South Korea as “unfair” and threatened many times to scrap it.

Senior South Korean officials met Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang this month and told Washington the North Korean leader was open to giving up his nuclear weapons if North Korea’s security was guaranteed.

Trump responded with a surprise announcement that he was willing to meet Kim in a bid to resolve the crisis over North Korea’s development of nuclear missiles capable of hitting the United States.

North Korea yet to comment on Trump-Kim meeting plan: South Korea

KONFRONTASI - South Korea says it has not yet received an official response from the North about a summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, which the American president has said is being planned for May.

South Korea’s Ministry of Unification said on Monday that Pyongyang was apparently silent over the upcoming summit to “cautiously” formulate a response.

North Korea threatens to 'counter' U.S. over military drills

KONFRONTASI-North Korea threatened on Saturday to“counter the U.S.” if the United States holds joint military exercises with South Korea, and said it would not beg for talks with Washington.

The United States is due to start joint exercises in early April, a South Korean presidential security adviser said this week according to Yonhap news agency - the latest in a series of drills that the north has regularly described as a threat.

U.S., North Korea should lower threshold for talks, says South

KONFRONTASI- South Korean President Moon Jae-in said on Monday the United States and North Korea should both give ground so they can sit down to talks to try to resolve a nuclear standoff, a day after Pyongyang expressed willingness for dialogue.

South Korea has engaged in a flurry of talks with North Korean officials since January, hoping to improve relations with the South’s just concluded Winter Olympics as a catalyst for rapprochement.

North Korea is developing nuclear-tipped missiles capable of reaching the U.S. mainland and U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un exchanged increasingly bellicose taunts before a sudden puncturing of tensions coinciding with the Games, with the North sending athletes and delegates.

“Recently, North Korea has shown it is open to actively engaging the United States in talks and the United States is talking about the importance of dialogue,” Moon said during a meeting in Seoul with Chinese Vice Premier Liu Yandong.

“There is a need for the United States to lower the threshold for talks with North Korea and North Korea should show it is willing to denuclearize. It’s important the United States and North Korea sit down together quickly,” he said, according to a statement from his office.

In August, Trump threatened to go beyond sanctions by bringing “fire and fury like the world has never seen”, although his administration has repeatedly said it prefers a diplomatic solution.

North Korea has vowed never to give up its nuclear program, which it pursues in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions, calling it “powerful treasured sword for defending peace” against U.S. aggression.

The United States, which stations 28,500 troops in South Korea, says any talks with North Korea must lead to an end to its nuclear program. Washington on Friday announced its largest package of sanctions yet.

North Korea condemned the move, accusing the United States of trying to undermine the improvement in inter-Korean relations.

A high-level delegation from North Korea has been visiting Seoul and meeting South Korean officials, including Moon, after attending the Olympics’ closing ceremony in Pyeongchang on Sunday.

The delegation told Moon during a meeting in Pyeongchang that North Korea was open to talks with Washington. The North Koreans attended a dinner hosted by Unification Minister Cho Myong-gyon, where participants agreed to keep working to boost inter-Korean ties, the ministry said.

Ministry spokesman Baik Tae-hyun said he hoped constructive talks between North Korea and the United States could begin when “an appropriate opportunity” arises.

North Korea's closing Olympics delegation includes man blamed for deadly ship sinking

KONFRONTASI-North Korea will send another high-level delegation to South Korea for the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics closing ceremony, officials said on Thursday, including the man blamed for the 2010 sinking of a South Korean navy ship that killed 46 sailors.

The latest visit by officials from the normally reclusive North will coincide with a U.S. delegation led by President Donald Trump’s daughter, Ivanka.

The North Korean delegation will be led by Kim Yong Chol, vice-chairman of the Party Central Committee, and will stay for three days from Sunday, South Korea’s Ministry of Unification said in a statement.

Kim Yong Chol is in charge of inter-Korean affairs in the North. He was also chief of the North’s Reconnaissance General Bureau, a top military intelligence body, which Seoul blamed for the deadly sinking of the Cheonan, a South Korean navy corvette, in 2010.

The United States and South Korea blacklisted Kim Yong Chol for supporting the North’s nuclear and missile programs in 2010 and 2016 respectively. However, South Korea decided to accept the North’s Olympics delegations for the good of the Games, a presidential official in Seoul said on condition of anonymity.

The official said South Korea had informed the United States of the pending visit and they were in talks about Kim Yong Chol’s entry into the South.

Ri Son Gwon will travel with Kim Yong Chol for the Games closing ceremony. Ri, also involved in inter-Korean affairs, accompanied North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s sister on her visit for the Games opening ceremony this month.

 

The eight-member delegation, including six staffers, will travel by road and will meet South Korean President Moon Jae-in during their visit, the Blue House official said, without specifying when.

Ivanka Trump will dine with Moon at the Blue House on Friday night and she has no plans to meet North Korean officials, a senior U.S. administration official said.

“There is no official opportunity for them to meet,” the official said.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence attended the Games opening ceremony and had been scheduled to meet Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, before the North Koreans canceled at the last minute, U.S. officials said.

North Korea warns US against ruining rapprochement with South

KONFRONTASI-North Korea says the United States will be responsible for the potential ruining of a recent rapprochement between Pyongyang and Seoul if America resumes its military drills with South Korea.

Washington and Seoul have agreed to put off joint military exercises involving tens of thousands of troops from the US and South Korea until after the February 9-25 Pyeongchang Olympic Games — being hosted by Seoul.

Pence raises prospect of talks with North Korea alongside 'intensified' pressure

KONFRONTASI-Comments by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence suggest the United States may be looking more favorably at diplomatic engagement with North Korea as South Korea considers a rare summit with its neighbor and long-time foe.

Pence said in a newspaper interview the United States and South Korea had agreed on terms for further diplomatic engagement with North Korea, first with Seoul and then possibly leading to direct talks with Washington.

The prospect of talks comes after months of tension between Pyongyang, Seoul and Washington over North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, with U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un trading insults and threats of destruction amid tightening sanctions from the United Nations.

Speaking to the Washington Post aboard Air Force Two on his way home from the Games, Pence said Washington would keep up its “maximum pressure campaign” against Pyongyang but would be open to possible talks at the same time.

“The point is, no pressure comes off until they are actually doing something that the alliance believes represents a meaningful step toward denuclearization,” Pence was quoted on Sunday as saying. “So the maximum pressure campaign is going to continue and intensify. But if you want to talk, we’ll talk.”

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Monday it was too early to judge whether latest developments represented the start of a diplomatic process.

“We’ve said for some time it’s really up to the North Koreans to decide when they’re ready to engage with us in a sincere way, a meaningful way,” Tillerson told reporters in Egypt.

“They know what has to be on the table for conversations.”

Trump has at times questioned the purpose of further talks with the North after years of negotiations by previous U.S. administrations failed to halt the North’s weapons programs.

Last year, North Korea conducted dozens of missile launches and its sixth and largest nuclear test in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions as it pursues its goal of developing a nuclear-armed missile capable of reaching the United States.

Relations between the two Koreas have improved in recent weeks, with Pyongyang sending its highest ranking delegation ever to attend the Winter Olympic Games, being held in the South Korean resort of Pyeongchang.

The visit included an invitation for South Korean President Moon Jae-in to travel to Pyongyang for talks. Such a meeting, if it came about, would mark the first inter-Korea summit since 2007.

A South Korean government official said Seoul’s stance was that separate talks with North Korea by South Korea and the United States should both lead to the denuclearization of the North while sanctions and pressure continue to be applied.

North Korea defends its weapons programs as essential to counter U.S. aggression, saying regular war drills between the United States and the South are preparations for invasion. The South hosts 28,500 U.S. troops, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean war.

North Korean leader's sister to visit South Korea for winter Olympics

KONFRONTASI-North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s 28-year-old sister will make her debut on the world stage when she visits South Korea to attend the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics on Friday, Seoul’s Unification Ministry said.

Pyongyang told Seoul that Kim Yo Jong would accompany Kim Yong Nam, North Korea’s nominal head of state, along with Choe Hwi, chairman of the National Sports Guidance Committee, and Ri Son Gwon, who led inter-Korean talks last month, according to the ministry.

Kim Yo Jong would be the first member of the Kim family, born on the sacred Mount Paektu, which is a centrepiece of the North’s idolization and propaganda campaign, to cross the border to the South.

Her inclusion in the delegation is “meaningful” as she is not only the sister of the country’s leader but has a significant position as a senior official of the ruling Workers’ Party, the South’s presidential Blue House said.

“It shows the North’s resolve to defuse tension on the Korean peninsula,” Blue House spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom told a news briefing.

But the trip could become a source of contention between Seoul and Washington, as she was blacklisted last year by the U.S. Treasury Department over human rights abuses and censorship, while Choe faces a travel ban under U.N. Security Council sanctions.

Kim Yo Jong is vice director of the party’s Propaganda and Agitation Department, which handles ideological messaging through the media, arts and culture. Choe had previously worked for the same body.

In 2016, South Korea’s former spy chief said Kim Yo Jong was seen “abusing power”, punishing propaganda department executives for “minor mistakes”.

“One of the positives of her visit is that she is someone able to deliver a direct message on behalf of Kim Jong Un,” said Shin Beom-chul, a professor at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy in Seoul.

“What is problematic is that she’s coming with Choe Hwi. ... This raises worries that North Korea likely intends to use this Olympics as a propaganda tool, rather than a possible opening to meaningful dialogue with South Korea.”

The opening ceremony will also be attended by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and other world leaders.

 

Pence said after talks with Abe in Tokyo on Wednesday that Washington would soon unveil its toughest ever economic sanctions on North Korea, calling the country the “most tyrannical and oppressive regime on the planet”.

Choi Kang, vice president of the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul, said, ”The United States would be unhappy to see South Korea trying to undermine all the rigid sanctions that it had worked so hard to put in place by granting exemptions for the sake of the Olympics.

“Personally, Pence would feel uncomfortable just being in the same place with the North Koreans.”

China says to ban export of more dual-use goods to North Korea

KONFRONTASI-China released a further list of goods banned for export to North Korea on Monday, saying the items could be used to build weapons of mass destruction, amid a standoff between North Korea and the United States over its weapons programs.

China has released several such lists in recent years as North Korea steps up it nuclear and missile tests. China says it is doing its duty to help enforce the increasingly tough U.N. sanctions.

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